Sean Hanna (above) is one of two Father Judge products who are seniors at Moravian. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Brandon McGuire and Sean Hanna have waited a long time for success on the basketball court.
The Moravian seniors both came to the Bethlehem, Pa. school in the fall of 2013, joining a Greyhounds program that had more single-digit win seasons (five) than winning seasons (four) since the turn of the millennium.
And neither had experienced much winning in high school -- Hanna spending all four years at Father Judge, McGuire at several different institutions, neither getting anywhere close to a league title.
Finally, with their amateur basketball careers nearing an end, they’re getting a taste of success.
On Saturday afternoon, McGuire and Hanna each had 16 points as the Greyhounds took a big step forward as a program with an 80-77 win over No. 11 Susquehanna.
It was the team’s first win over a nationally-ranked program since beating No. 24 Wilkes on the road on Dec. 1, 2001. More importantly, it’s the 13th win of the season for Moravian, which guarantees a regular-season record above .500 for the first time since the year before Hanna, McGuire and the rest of the Greyhound senior class arrived on campus.
With six games left in the conference schedule, Moravian (13-6, 6-2 Landmark) is in a three-way tie with Susquehanna (16-3, 6-2) and Scranton (14-5, 6-2), in good shape to play in the Landmark’s four-team playoffs for the first time since 2012.
“Feels really good, as a senior year this is what we imagined, being where we are, so it’s a great feeling,” McGuire said.
Hanna, a 6-foot-tall guard had spent all four of his high school years at Judge, which went 16-6 his sophomore season -- he only contributed two points on the varsity level that year -- before a 13-10 record as he moved into the starting lineup as a junior.
McGuire, a 6-4 forward who was forced to leave North Catholic when the school closed after his freshman year in 2009-10, spent two seasons at Franklin Towne Charter in the Public League, on a team that won exactly four games his sophomore and junior years.
They joined forces as high school seniors at Judge as two of three leading scorers on a Crusaders squad that went 10-12 in the ultra-tough Catholic League.
“We were acquaintances before the basketball season,” McGuire said, “and then we got closer obviously as the season went on.”
“Originally I said I was going to Moravian first and he was still thinking about different schools to go down [to],” Hanna said, “and when he finally decided it was great.”
After going 12-13 during their freshman season, Hanna and McGuire and the rest of the program suffered through a rough 5-20 season during 2014-15, which ended with head coach Jim Walker retiring after a 35-year run.
Former East Stroudsburg assistant coach Justin Potts, a 2000 graduate of Moravian, took over for his first head coaching job before the 2015-16 season.
And there was a clear step forward, with the team winning 11 games in Potts’ first season.
“Last year we made a lot of improvement from sophomore year to junior year, and we knew we could start to play with teams,” Hanna said. “And then coach Potts really instilled some confidence in us going into this year, so we feel like we can play with anyone.”
Though Moravian lost its season opener this year to Lehigh Valley neighbor Muhlenberg, it ripped off seven straight wins to follow. Then came a stretch of five losses in seven games -- including one to Division I foe Lafayette and road trips to Susquehanna and Catholic U -- before a win at Scranton kick-started what is now four straight wins.
Potts gave a lot of credit to the Father Judge pair, now two of his three captains along with fellow senior Isaiah Jennings -- for helping make his transition an easy one.
“When you’re a junior, you get a new coach, you don’t know what to expect, and they bought into everything I was telling them,” Potts said. “They have been remarkable.”
Brandon McGuire (above) is Moravian's leading scorer and rebounder. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Though McGuire (team-high 17.1 ppg, 9.8 rpg) and Hanna (9.4 ppg) are certainly integral parts of this year’s squad, it’s a youth movement that has made the difference.
Sophomore guard Jimmy Murray (13.3 ppg), a Plymouth-Whitemarsh product, continued his recent surge in production with a game-high 21 points in the Susquehanna win, adding three assists, two blocks and one crucial steal in the final 30 seconds to help preserve the win.
The 6-foot guard finished 8-for-12 from the floor and hit four of his five 3-point attempts, including two in an 80-second span that turned what had been a 10-point deficit into a three-point game with 7:46 to play.
“He’s been playing really well of late, he’s spending a little more time in the gym working on his shot, which translates usually to the court,” Potts said. “He’s a guy who can make a lot of plays for us, not only making 3s and those kind of things, he’s getting a little better off the bounce as he goes through his career. Had some big possessions and made some big shots for us."
Sophomore Jake McGee, a Marple-Newtown grad, is averaging 7.1 ppg off the bench. Freshman forward John Hargraves (Bonner-Prendie) is starting to come into his own, contributing six points and three blocks against Susquehanna. Another Judge alum, sophomore Will Brazukas, is playing key minutes at backup point guard.
The two elder Judge products connected on the eventual game-winner, as Hanna found McGuire for a reverse layup with 1:35 remaining to put Moravian up 78-77. The Greyhounds had to stop the Crusaders twice more to close it out, with Hanna knocking down two foul shots with 15 seconds left for the final margin.
Susquehanna was led by an 18-point, six-rebound effort from junior forward Ryan Traub, and also got 14 points from senior guard Steven Weidlich.
“Frank [Marcinek’s] got an unbelievable program, it reflects in their past two years of being in the top 25 for two years straight,” Potts said. “We found a way down 10 with under 10 minutes to go, made some stops, made some baskets and our seniors stepped up.”
Things don't get any easier for Moravian, which gets Scranton at home on Wednesday before playing four straight on the road; when they get back home on Feb. 18, it's to play Catholic U.
"As a young team and being in my second year, we’re just trying to learn how to win and we’ve done that a little bit down the stretch here," Potts said. "I think it’s important for our kids to feel that, when you play really good teams and you find a way to win, it’s something they need to experience in order to continue to do that down the stretch.”